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  • Hearthstone – delaying the victory

    I recently started playing Hearthstone and have really enjoyed it. I had avoided the game for quite some time because I used to get a little too obsessive about Magic: The Gathering, and really did not want to devote all my limited game time to it. However, when it came to mobile, I decided to give it a shot because then I could play it in those odd moments when I have 15 minutes to spare but I am not on my PC (or even home).

    I have really enjoyed playing the game. I will admit that I am not good, often losing more games than I win. However, it is all those losses that has led me to an interesting and curious observation. I noticed that my opponents often delay inflicting lethal damage. Often they will play some unnecessary spells and minions, or throw out some complex combo. This happens frequently enough that I am left wondering why.

    The “benefit of the doubt” answer is a situation I have experienced myself: they simply did not realize they had lethal on the board. I have had a couple instances in which I got too focused on the strategy and took a defensive maneuver before realizing the offensive kills shot was available. I have also miscounted the damage I had available. My funniest experience I to date is an opponent who clearly had the upper hand and had lethal damage in play, when including the hunter’s hero power. However, they spent all mana on new minions, leaving me with one health. On the next turn, I was able to buff my remaining minion to lethal and won the game. I really think this individual got too excited about what they had available, or miscounted mana.

    However, this seems to happen all too often to be nothing but simple mistakes. Take a match I just finished for instance. I did all I could, but had to end my turn in a checkmate situation. I had 7 life remaining with no taunt minions on the board. My opponent had an 8/8 and one other minion on the board. It was obvious one quick hit with the 8/8 would end the match, but my opponent instead hit with the other minion for 3 damage, cast a spell that damaged all minions, wiping away one from each side and leaving us each with one, and then cast Power Overwhelming on the 8/8 minion to hit me with 12 for a 8 damage overkill. So, why go to all the extra trouble? Was my opponent trying to fulfill a daily quest for spells cast or damage dealt? Or, were they trying to rub in the victory? While I don’t want to assume the worst, I would also note only about half of those that take these extra steps respond to my “Well Played” in kind.

    I may never know why other players prolong an obvious victory, but it certainly is a curious thing. I know the obvious way to avoid this is to just concede when the game is lost, but if it is a close match I like to stick it out for the tiny possibility they will screw up and fail to make the killing blow. Honestly, there is no harm done; the match takes an extra minute or two is all. More than anything, this is just a curious observation of a behavioral “meta” I have noticed in my short couple months in the game.

     


  • Fear of Embarrassing Failure – The Anxiety of Being Bad at a Game

    I love multiplayer games. They add an element you just don’t get from the singleplayer campaigns – human thought. Developers are constantly working to make artificial intelligence within their games more human-like to make singleplayer modes more compelling, but they never quite have that full sense of competition and unexpected tactics and interactions you will see in a multiplayer setting. Nevermind game elements that require real interaction, such as strategic diplomacy or team cooperation; AI simply cannot imitate the feeling you get working with other gamers in these ways.

    Despite my enjoyment of multiplayer, I find I do not play it all that often, and when I do, I barely get the multiplayer for all its worth. I find this is especially true in team-based games such as Battlefield or Insurgency. It used to be that I would only play Battlefield if a close friend was playing as well. It was not until I became significantly more comfortable with the game that I would play solo, and even then I don’t initiate interaction with squadmates, I follow the lead of others, and I don’t stray beyond my comfort zone for modes, loadouts, etc. I think Insurgency is a really high-quality game, but I cannot bring myself to jump into it alone.

    I blamed it all on my social anxiety and decided it is what it is: I still have fun playing and that’s all I need. However, it still bugged me, especially as I realized that some things about it made no sense. Of course, anxiety as a whole rarely makes complete sense in that we know deep down there is no real harm to fear, but it still persists. Why would I be socially anxious playing a game online? No one can see my face. I am using my gamer handle rather than my real name, so no one really knows me personally. My anxiety is usually at its worst when I am in a crowded room of people I don’t know and may not share interest with (think business mixer). However, in a gaming environment, it’s a virtual room full of gamers there to play a game. Clearly, we all have a shared interest. So, why so anxious?

    I have come to realize that much of this anxiety comes from a fear of failure and therefore a fear of embarrassing myself. I avoid playing games I will enjoy. I avoid making new friends. I avoid having new experiences and learning new things. I avoid becoming better. I avoid all these things because I am anxious about sucking at a game. I am anxious despite not truly caring how good I am (I just want to have fun). I am anxious despite knowing we all start  as noobs. I am anxious despite knowing it is just a game. I am anxious despite knowing the only way to get better or have any fun with the game is to play. Sure, there are valid reasons for anxiety, such as the vitriol found within many gaming communities, but negative experiences would be outweighed by the positive, you would hope (have found this is not always the case, which has exacerbated the issue at times).

    I am sure I could spend quite a bit of time doing some psychological analysis to determine if this is all due to some adolescent experiences or something like that, but I am sure speculation will get nowhere. In the end, I come back to, “it is what it is.” Sure, I will keep pushing myself, but I know it will always be there.

    I am not sure what my end goal was in writing this. Maybe it was to share my thought process on the subject, or maybe I figured it would be therapeutic. Perhaps someone else not sure why they are uncomfortable in a multiplayer game will stumble across this and have an epiphany. All I can say is I have found multiplayer gaming easier to do with friends because they help you see past the anxiety (at least when they support you rather than making you feel judged about your skills), but it is also more fun that way because it is usually a higher-quality interaction. Even so, there is still A LOT of quality single-player out there, so don’t fret either way you go.

    Oh, and if you see me out there, feel free to say hi. Receiving interaction from others usually reduces the anxiety quite a bit.


  • On Leaving the Freedom! Network

    For the last six months of 2014, my YouTube channel was partnered with the Freedom! MCN via their subnetwork, Etatch. In December, I submitted a request to end this partnership, which became effective around the first of the new year. While this really isn’t a big deal, and there is no significant drama to speak of, I do feel it is a good opportunity to share some of my thoughts from the experience. Browsing the Let’s Play subreddit, I frequently see people ask about partnerships, so maybe sharing my thoughts will help someone else.

    The opportunity to partner with Etatch arrived in my inbox one day as a complete surprise. It was kind of exciting, as somehow it made me feel a little more “legit” as a YouTube hobbyist, because the message said they had watched some videos and felt I would be a good addition. I will not say this was not true, but I will get into the fallacy of my thinking soon. The messages implied how a partnership would help a channel grow, touted the revenue share, and promised a positive experience. After giving it significant thought, I decided it was a good opportunity to test drive a partnership, as I really had nothing to lose. One of the benefits of Freedom! is their 30-day “no lock-in” contract, which means they can be easy to test-drive and there is always a way out.

    The experience has not been significantly positive or negative. Overall, I found more things I would consider negative (in the way having nothing when you want something is a negative), which is why I terminated the partnership. Unfortunately, I don’t know how many of the issues apply to more networks than Freedom!, but I would assume most are similar enough in how they operate that it will take significant convincing of a difference to get me to trouble with joining one again.

    Advantages

    There were certainly some positive aspects to being partnered. For instance, Freedom has worked out deals that offer a lot of music you can use in your videos, though I cannot say if it is really any better or more expansive than the royalty-free music one can find without a partnership. Being part of a network can also make it a little easier to find and communicate with like-minded content producers to discuss tips, compare experiences, or put together collaborations. There are probably some other things I am either forgetting or was not aware of because they are offered to larger channels.

    Business Model

    The ways of one network do not represent the business approach of all networks, so be sure to investigate how a potential network operates before joining. Speaking specifically about Freedom, I have to say I did not like their business model. During my short time as a partner, it was clear that Freedom’s primary measure of success (for the moment, anyway) is the number of channels partnered with the network (and they count all subnetworks, so they weave quite a web). I believe their business plan is to simply sign up as many channels as possible, thereby playing the statistics and increasing the likelihood they have included those channels lucky enough to hit it big, as well as to simply work a profit from sheer volume, as taking a cut of a channel’s ad revenue is entirely passive income.

    This model is clear by looking at their structure. There are no real requirements to join Freedom. Nearly every application seems to be accepted, and almost anyone can start their own subnetwork under the main MCN. All partners are also offered referral bonuses for bringing other channels into the network. It all points to a desire for unmitigated growth. During my six months with Etatch, I received multiple requests to join other Freedom subnetworks, one of which even argued with me about how much more his network offered when I explained I was already with a Freedom subnetwork. Their system incentivizes, and therefore indirectly encourages spam and cannibalism between networks.

    I mentioned earlier that being contacted by a recruiter was exciting and made me feel more legit. However, I really was nothing more than just another channel. Freedom seems to show little discretion in what channels they partner. This results in you being a small fish in a sea only a bit smaller than YouTube itself, but also in Freedom being unable to truly deliver on the promise to help you grow. This also results in a large number of partners who are immature, both in life and in business, which significantly reduces the value of the community as a tool.

    As a member of the network, I of course subbed to the Freedom channel in an effort to keep up with any network-related news. However, I unsubbed after a couple months because it cluttered my sub box with overly frequent uploads. The channel was full of “helpful” tips for growing your channel, which the channel itself employed gratuitously. These tips include very gimmicky practices such as hype and teaser videos. Personally, I don’t have the time and will usually unsubscribe any channel that uploads a short video to tease or hype a video that goes live in an hour. I also found a lot of their videos to mislead one into thinking there was valuable news content, and if the content was anything more than a tease, it required getting deep into the video to find. Basically, I felt that as a subbed partner (and I would assume the majority of their subs are network partners), they weren’t there to help me so much as I was there to help them get views and revenue on their videos.

    Money

    I do not do YouTube for money. I started it as a curiosity and potential hobby, with the notion that it would provide enough cash to buy a game nothing more than a pipe dream. When you monetize videos on YouTube, you do so through Google Adsense, which requires you to accumulate $100 USD before it will pay you. At about $0.20 – $0.30 a month, ever receiving a payment is unlikely. One advantage to the Freedom! network is that they will pay you monthly, regardless of amount. However, they only give you 60% of what you would get through Adsense. Unfortunately, the way it was presented to me was that Freedom offered a 60/40 split, and that  was better than the 55/45 split from Adsense (which lead me to assume Freedom had its own ad network because this didn’t make sense otherwise).

    If you are doing videos for the money or have any concerns about this at all, be sure to look into how a potential network handles ad revenue very thoroughly. It may be that you are better off on your own. Thankfully, I did not really care, as this was all an experiment from the very start. However, had I been a larger channel with a real revenue stream, I would have been rather miffed at the poor communication on how the revenue works from the recruiter. Of course, had I been a larger channel, I also would have been given a more VIP recruitment effort and/or a greater revenue share offer anyway, so that might be a moot point.

    Help

    Networks offer very little to smaller channels in the way of direct help. I definitely found there was no real hands-on help. Instead, they provided “tools”. They never really explain what these tools are. I guess those would be the community, music library, and how-to videos. One quickly realizes the relatively low value of these tools, as royalty-free music and how-to videos can be found without a network (and in better quality in some cases).

    As I mentioned earlier, the value of the community as a tool is dependent on those within the community. Despite the sheer volume of partners, the number truly involved and helpful on the community forums is quite limited. There is a very large number of “check out my channel plz” posts. Their volunteer moderators work very hard to keep things organized and clean, but when such a volume of new partners is constantly flowing in without regard to experience, business acumen, or mental maturity, it makes finding valuable discussion quite difficult. Requests for help or critiques of your channel or videos in forum topics meant for that purpose often fall off without a reply. There is little more frustrating than receiving no help when you ask for it. I still don’t understand why they don’t hire people specifically for this purpose.

    Those who complain about the network’s failure to help them grow on the forums are promptly told that joining the network does not immediately grow a channel, and that it takes hard work using the tools provided.  This says a couple of things. First, I am not certain those defending the network could even identify these tools they speak of so confidently. The other issue is a sense that little will change, as your tiny channel is just a speck to the network and your concerns are quickly disregarded.

    The truth is, all partnered channels are passive income to the network. The network takes a percentage of each partnered channel’s revenue, regardless of what they have done for that particular channel. There is no incentive to help you, beyond that of keeping you partnered. One might think your growth bringing them more revenue would be an incentive, but you already have a drive to grow and will do it yourself, so why should they expend the energy? By playing the statistics of volume, they ensure that there will be plenty of large or growing large channels that are content enough to remain with the network that the attrition of discontent or anemic channels does not hurt them.

    Though it may sound like it, my experience was not entirely negative. I did manage to find a few quality channels to follow. With sufficient digging, I found some helpful tips and ideas to implement. I also learned a lot (much of which comes from the negative aspects, of course). As a small channel, it seems pretty clear a network is not for me. Honestly, unless the network was going to directly work for their share and help me do things I cannot do on my own, I have trouble seeing how one may ever be for me. Most of what a network like Freedom “offers” is the same as what one can find independently with enough searching. Using the tools available to everyone via Twitter, YouTube, and Twitch to find similar channels and other players/community members seems to do just as much for your learning, growth, and inspiration as being in a vast network.


  • Rewards and unintended motivations

    Rewards provide an excellent source of motivation. People will often do things they may otherwise ignore if completing the task will provide something they wish to have. This is frequently seen in games – they offer achievements, XP, special in-game items, and other things for completing tasks in and out of the game. Such rewards always have an intended motivation, and it is often a path one is meant to follow in the game, such as defeating a boss or supporting a teammate. However, it seems that we often fail to notice, consider, or just blatantly ignore the fact that various rewards also have unintended motivations attached to them.

    In games, unintended motivations often result in players doing unusual, annoying, or unhelpful things because such behavior is rewarded in a satisfactory way. A shining example of this is Battlefield 4, in which players are handsomely rewarded with XP for long distance headshots. Doing so requires a player to sit in waiting at the edge of a map providing little to no benefit to their team in a very team-based game. With a couple well-placed (or lucky) shots, the player can top the leaderboard. One can easily argue the developers did not intend for this to be a common playstyle because the game is so team- and objective-oriented. Their original intent was to reward players for the added difficulty of headshots over range, thinking that such skills would be utilized in support of the team, rather than for self gratification while ignoring one’s team.

    This can often be seen in one’s day-to-day life as well. A great example that has motivated me to discuss this briefly is a recent sponsorship event through the Freedom! network. I am a member of the network, which I will discuss in greater detail at another time. They recently launched a $100,000 year-long sponsorship program for small channels, in which they choose a member channel each day to whom they give a product from one of their sponsors (which generally consists of gaming gear, like headphones and mice). Their announcement of this indicated they would likely choose the more active members of the community for these sponsorships. I imagine there was at least some intention in this to get members a bit more active and push the community toward being the supportive foundation for small channels they wish it to be.

    While this has motivated members to be much more active than before, the unintended part is that the quality of that activity is not what it was before. The forums and video comments have suddenly been spammed with members offering to do channel and video reviews, hoping to get noticed as an active and helpful community member. However, a quick look through some of these finds critiques that offer little more than, “Dude, ur awesome! ur banner is cool! u deserve ur subs.” I imagine most of this reviews are done with very little effort. If you look through the Freedom! forums in the reviews and critiques subforums, nearly every thread is someone offering reviews, where they used to be primarily threads asking for a review. Threads asking for reviews are still there, but they get buried and are largely ignored, which seems very strange considering there are 10’s, if not 100’s of people looking to do reviews, yet these same people seem to have no interest in doing reviews on someone else’s thread because they are less likely to be seen doing them. I can only imagine the original intention was much different than this result.

    So it goes with rewards and motivations. We introduce rewards to elicit behavior, only to find the human mind can come up with many and more ways to get the same rewards with other than intended behavior. If there is anything to take from this discussion, it is to take an extra moment to think about how people of different minds may take various paths and whether or not the rewards or rules should be modified to safeguard from unwanted paths.


  • Creating the perfect Battlefield

    What do you feel is the ideal Battlefield game? Think back on all those you have played in the series; what did you like, and what did you hate? What if you could take all those pieces you like, leave out the ones that you hate, and throw in a few fresh ideas, stitch them all together, and make the perfect Battlefield game? That is exactly what Punisher from the Walking Dead Army is trying to do, in that he has called for thoughts and ideas from the Battlefield community on what would make the perfect Battlefield game. He already has a promise from Dan Mitre, EA’s Battlefield Community Manager, that he will forward our discussion on to the developers. Now is the time to have this discussion, before Battlefield 5 (or whatever the next installment will be…Bad Company 3?) is too far into the development process.

    I know when I think about it, I come up with a number of things I think could change, so I will certainly be bringing by thoughts to this community initiative, as well as to this site. Punisher’s efforts may be the motivation I need to finally put these thoughts to paper, as it goes.

    So, please, check out his video, follow him on Twitter, and join in on the discussion to make the perfect Battlefield!